The score calls for a large orchestra consisting of three flutes (two doubling
The three movements are:
- Intrada: Allegro maestoso — a sort of extended two-subject overture beginning in 9/8 on an ostinato drum beat more threatening, if anything, than that which begins the Brahms First Symphony.
- Capriccio notturno ed Arioso: Vivace — the Capriccio is an airy, virtuoso scherzo, the main subject of which is intoned by the violin, followed by the remainder of the strings and woodwinds. It is followed by an expressive Arioso initiated by the brass section. The reprisal of the capriccio is intoned by the cellos and harp, the theme bowed, then with pizzicato. It is concluded with the ominous rumblings of the drums, double-basses and bass clarinet.
- Passacaglia, Toccata e Corale: Andante con moto — Allegro giusto — in three sections: the Passacaglia being a set of variations on a brooding theme played by the double-basses; followed by a vivacious and dynamic Toccata; and the (instrumental) Corale.
The Corale's second appearance produces a solemn finale for the monumental construction, the material for which is borrowed from a nineteenth-century collection compiled by the Polish
The work was first performed in Warsaw on 26 November 1954, and was responsible for making Lutosławski's name recognised in the West. However, once Lutosławski embarked on a style marked by heavy aleatoricism in the early 1960s, he attempted to distance himself from the Concerto for Orchestra, though he conducted it in Copenhagen in August 1967 upon receiving a $10,000 prize from a Danish foundation.